February 21, 2017

Cornell Researcher to Head Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases

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What do Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Zika have in common? Not only are they extremely deadly diseases, the three share a common vector: Mosquitoes.

For years, researchers have sought ways to reduce the probabilities of transmission and the severity of each virus. Genetically modified mosquitoes that lead to the collapse of entire mosquito populations and vaccines have only recently been introduced and their results are still uncertain. To augment such efforts, the Northeast Regional Center For Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases was launched last month, led by Prof. Laura Harrington, entomology.

“We are continually faced with introductions of new vectors and new pathogens, yet there has been little training and education for those working in public health and vector control to meet the changing needs for detecting these new introductions,” Harrington said.

The center has two primary goals. First, researchers will aim to validate existing prevention methods. To do so, they will be working on six different topics: evaluating mosquito trapping methods, predicting future human risk to such pathogens, the interactions between pathogens and their vectors, chemical control of these vectors and their basic biology.

“We will work to accomplish the goals of the cluster. These are applied research goals that will yield new knowledge and will work to bring public health practitioners and academics together to solve problems,” Harrington said.

Dealing with future epidemics will be next on the center’s list. Together with partner institutions, the center will offer a master’s degree in public health entomology with the aim of providing the technical expertise necessary to manage, adapt and prevent epidemics that arise in different conditions.

The center was set up with help from a $10 million grant from the Center for Disease Control. Other partnering institutions include the Center for Vector Biology and Zoonotic Diseases, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New York State Department of Health, Columbia University, New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center, Connecticut Department of Public Health and Calder Center, Fordham University.